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Everything You Need to Know to Improve Your Credit History

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Tips for Improving Credit: How Long Have You Had Credit

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Figuring out how to improve your credit score can feel daunting, mostly because getting those numbers to go up can really be a process. While there are a few things you can do to raise your credit scores in the short-term, there are factors of your credit that, well, just take time. Case in point: Your length of credit history. Length of credit history, or the age of your credit reports, is essentially how long you’ve had your credit lines. It accounts for about 15% of your credit scores and, if you’re new to the credit world, there’s little you can do to bolster your performance in this category, other than, of course, to wait. Let’s break down this category of credit further and provide some insights into how to increase your credit score over time.

What Are the 5 Categories of Credit Scores?

Previously, we’ve covered three of the five categories that represent the points that you earn, which make up your credit score. We’ve explored Payment History, Your Amount of Debt and the Type of Accounts in Your Credit Reports. To quantify those three categories is very easy. Collectively they will make up 75% of the points in your credit scores. The “point” range (also known as the “scale”) of the commonly used credit scores is 300 to 850 so that means that even if you earned the maximum number of points out of our previous categories your score will be no higher than 638 which is significantly below the national average.

This article will explore the fourth of the five categories: How Long Have You Had Credit or the Length of Your Credit History. We’ll also provide you with tips on how to earn the maximum number of points out of this category, which is worth a significant 15% of your overall credit score.

Before we get into the details of this category, the definition of “how long you have had credit” must be clearly understood. This category is the cause of one of the most prevalent credit scoring myths. It addresses the age of the information in your credit history, not your own age. Surveys have shown that an overwhelming percentage of consumers wrongly believe that your age can have an effect, either positive or negative, to your credit scores. Your age is not a component of credit scoring models. The reasons that your age doesn’t matter might surprise you. Let’s take a little quiz. See if you can answer this question:

Why Doesn’t Your Age Matter in Credit Scoring Models?

  1. Because it is illegal to use age as a factor in credit scoring models.
  2. Because of legal protections to various age groups.
  3. Because of the negative PR that it would cause those who develop, sell and use credit scores.

If you guessed Answer A, then you are mistaken but don’t feel bad about it. This is a common misunderstanding. The use of age as a part of credit or insurance decision-making is not illegal. Think about it, age has been openly used by the insurance industry for decades when they set your automobile policy premiums. You just can’t use age as the sole reason to exclude someone from being approved for credit or insurance.

In this case the correct answers are both B and C, but let’s discuss all three options we gave you further:

  1. The Legality of Using Age as a Component – Contrary to popular belief, it is not illegal to use someone’s age as a component of a credit-scoring model. As stated above, age is openly used as a decision-making component of insurance underwriting and has been for years. In fact, research has proven that someone’s age can be a very powerful predictor of someone’s future credit performance. Credit score developers have gotten around using age by identifying and using “proxy” characteristics. These are characteristics within the credit scoring models that are similar to “age” but aren’t exactly age. We’ll dig further into this practice later in the newsletter.
  2. Legal Protections – Arguably the group that stands to lose the most by having their age considered in the scoring models is the elderly. Older Americans, theoretically, are on more fixed incomes and can’t afford the payment amount uncertainties that are common with variable rate loans and the ever-changing minimum payments on credit cards. As such, the credit score developers were stranded between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” How were they to take advantage of this powerful characteristic but not treat elderly people unfairly, which would be illegal? The answer could be quite simple. You would chose to compromise the predictive value of the model by simply ignoring what the research says about a risky age group by giving them the maximum number of credit score ‘points’ from this category. This, of course, is the wrong thing to do. From a statistical perspective you are degrading the value of your credit-scoring model by giving away points and going against what’s “predictive.” This is exactly the opposite of what research proves. As such, it’s easier to make the decision to ignore the consumer’s age and hope you can make up for it with other credit score model characteristics.
  3. Public Relations – Credit reporting and credit scoring has always been a favorite target of consumer advocates, minority protection groups and class action lawyers for a real or perceived lack of fairness and consumer access. In fact, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which governs credit reporting and its use by creditors, was aggressively amended with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (also known as FACTA or The FACT Act) to allow for consumers to receive free copies of their credit reports once a year. The last thing that creditors, credit reporting agencies or credit score developers want or need is yet another controversial decision such as weighing a person’s age in their scores. As such, public relation concerns are one of the two reasons why age is not considered in the scoring models.

So the bottom line is this: Your physical age has no impact, positive or negative, on your credit scores.

What Exactly Does ‘How Long You Have Had Credit’ Mean?

What it means is the age of your credit report. Yes, your credit report has an age just like anything else. And that age has a positive or negative value in your credit scores. As we said, this value equates to 15% of the points that make up your overall credit scores. The question now becomes how the credit scoring models determine the age of your credit file and how the age impacts your score. Let’s investigate the various ways this occurs.

The age of your oldest account: Each of the accounts on your credit report has a field called “Date Opened.” This date has been reported to the credit reporting agencies by your creditors. The date opened is supposed to be exactly what it sounds like — the month and year that the account was opened.

The credit scoring models can read this date and “age” the account by calculating the number of months and years that the account has been open. Once this is done on all of the accounts, the models will then determine which one is the oldest. This oldest date becomes the age of your credit report. Assuming that today’s date is May 15, 2016, the credit account shown below will read an age of 5 years. Now assume that this is the oldest account on your report and this will now become the age of your credit report – 5 years old.

Subscriber Account Number Account Type Date Opened Loan Type Current Status
Discover Card 30492383XXXX Revolving May, 2011 Credit Card, Terms REV R1

The average age of your accounts – Another important measurement is the average age of your accounts. This is simply the average age of all of your accounts as measured using, again, the “date opened” fields. For example, if you have 2 accounts that are 3 years old and 5 years old respectively your “average age of credit” will be 4 years.

Since credit information is constantly being added to and removed from your credit reports, a logical question would be to ask what happens to these two categories when items fall off and get added to your reports. The answer is that accounts falling off and being added to your credit report will cause your average to change constantly. Sometimes this can have negative consequences.

When information is removed from your credit reports it essentially disappears and cannot be used in any sort of credit scoring measurements. As such, old accounts that fall off of your credit reports can never help your average again.

Can’t Credit Scoring Models Use Other Means to Evaluate My Age?

You bet they can and they do. Don’t be fooled into thinking that creditors, credit reporting agencies and credit score developers are simply overlooking this potentially valuable measurement without a Plan B, which is the use of “proxy” characteristics. A proxy characteristic is a way of measuring sensitive information, like your age, in an indirect and less offensive manner. Let’s look at some ways of measuring personal and sensitive qualities in an indirect manner so you can better understand what we mean by proxy characteristics.

“Are You Overweight?”

It would be unreasonable to think that asking someone straight out “how much do you weigh” wouldn’t be offensive. But if you wanted to know how much someone weighed then you could ask him or her where they shop for clothes or how often they exercise or even how much they enjoy fast food restaurants. Knowing the answers to these questions and a few others could give you a reasonable picture of whether or not someone is overweight. It’s not a guarantee but it certainly gives you something to think about.

“Do you smoke?”

This is another very sensitive subject. Coming right out and asking if someone smokes might lead to a response like “it’s none of your business.” But, if you asked someone if they agree with smoking restrictions in airports and government buildings you might be able to use their answer and make a more educated assumption about whether or not they smoke. Or, better yet, they might even volunteer the answer. You’ve accomplished your investigative goal without really asking the most direct question and offending someone.

“What’s Your Political Affiliation?”

This might be even more sensitive than the smoking example. It’s not something that you would ask in a professional setting to be sure. But, if you asked someone what they thought about the television coverage of the Republican or Democratic National Conventions, the answer might shed some light on their preference.

These examples are solely meant to show you exactly how credit scoring models measure your age in an indirect manner so not to offend anyone. The average age of credit account and the oldest account measurements are their way of indirectly measuring your age without really asking how old you are.

Why Does the Age of My Credit Report Matter?

As with any component of a credit scoring model, the developer’s research has determined that these age measurements are valuable enough to make it into their models. In fact, these measurements have made it into the models for decades and it doesn’t look like they are losing any value so expect them to be around for a while.

In this case, the use of age makes statistical sense as well as common sense. Consumers with a younger credit history tend to be more risky borrowers than consumers who have had credit for many years. Put yourself in the position of being a lender. If someone came to you and asked you to borrow $10,000 wouldn’t you want to know if they’ve ever borrowed any money in the past? Or, is this their first time? Are you comfortable being their first lender? How about if they wanted to borrow $250,000 from you to buy a house but they show no history of borrowing money, especially that amount. Are you willing to take that chance? As you can see, it’s not really unreasonable to take age into account when making these decisions. It’s not a popular choice, but it’s certainly hard to argue that it’s not a good idea.

You want your credit accounts to be as old as possible. Here’s why:

The Impact to Your Credit Scores

Credit scores are a standard component used in today’s lending environment. Each of us has many different credit scores, generated from three major versions of our credit reports. It’s important to become familiar with the impact the age of your accounts has on your credit scores.

The goal for this category is very simple. To improve your credit scores in this category, you want your credit reports to be as old as possible. You also want the average age of your accounts to be old as possible. The older these measurements, the more stable your credit reports will become. And in this case, with stability comes more points for your credit score.

There really isn’t a target age that you should strive to achieve. At some point you will max out on the points for this category and aging your credit files any longer really won’t help. While the optimal ages are a closely guarded trade secret, it’s safe to say that you will have to have had credit for many years before you will earn the maximum points in this category. The good news is that now that you know how important these age measurements are, the better credit shopping decisions you can make.

How Can You Ensure Earning the Maximum Points Available out of the ‘How Long Have You Had Credit’ Category?

Sure, waiting is your primary strategy, but there’s a little more to it than that. Here are some tips for improving your credit scores in this category:

  1. Get started and be patient: We all started in the same spot, with no credit and no credit report. If you are a young consumer or have chosen not to ever use credit then it’s time to get started. Applying for an easy-to-get account like a retail store card or a secured credit card will establish a credit report in your name. Now it’s time to be patient as that account ages. As you add new accounts to the credit report, you will hurt your average age of account (remember that the credit scoring models also average the age of your accounts), but eventually the numbers will work in your favor. If you have many accounts that are very old, you won’t be able to lower your average much any longer. You’ve arrived.
  2. Do NOT ever try and get old accounts removed: For some reason a very common myth floating around is that you should have old or closed accounts removed from your credit reports. Why would you ever want your history of positive payments removed from your records? What if you got excellent grades in high school and college 20 years ago? Why would you ever fight to have that record removed? You wouldn’t. Don’t be fooled into thinking that old accounts hurt your credit scores. They do nothing but help them. (Exception: As with all rules there are exceptions. In this case it’s more of an “FYI” than an exception. You may be wondering whether to remove old accounts that are negative: Isn’t it better to have those accounts removed? The answer is “don’t worry about it.” Negative items will automatically be removed after their statute of limitations expires. You will not have to ask that they be removed. It is done by the credit bureaus as a standard practice, though if one remains on your credit report in error, you’ll want to dispute it. Keep in mind, most creditors abide by the statute of limitations on derogatory items, which is generally seven years. You can learn more about how long things stay on your credit report here.)
  3. Be aware that opening accounts will lower your average age: The advice here isn’t to not open new credit accounts. Everyone has to open credit card accounts, buy cars and houses and finance other things. You should be aware, however, that each time a new account hits your credit file the age of that account will become part of the averaging process. And since the account is brand new it will lower the average age of your accounts. So, be selective when you are shopping for credit. Don’t open up multiple retail store credit cards around the holiday season just to save 10% off your purchase. The negative impact to your scores will cost you much more in the long run.

Next, we’ll present another issue in our series about the categories that have the most effect on your credit scores – Your History of Searching for Credit and what you can do to improve your credit scores in this category, a category worth 10% of your credit score points.

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    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am sorry I am confused. You have another auto loan that is not closed but is reported as closed? Is there a balance? Then it’s possible the fact that there is a balance on the closed account is affecting your score. But, again, not sure I understand the scenario….

    • Gerri Detweiler

      These are all good questions. Since you are already using 80% of your available credit on other cards closing this one will likely hurt your scores. Scoring models generally look at utilization (debt usage) in the aggregate as well as on individual accounts.

      The account doesn’t disappear when you close it so it can still help the age of your credit history. But if it is closed it will eventually no longer be reported, and that’s not likely the case with open accounts.

      Giving a threshold is impossible because there are so many models out there but FICO does say consumers with the highest credit scores (high achievers) have an average account age of 11 and their oldest account was opened 25 years ago on average!

    • Jon

      Hi Gerri, thanks for the great article. My average cc utilization rate ranges from 5-15% so I am willing to drop one of my newer cc (opened 2 yrs ago) to help my average cc age history. I’ve calculated that my cc utilization will barely budget if I close this card since i have a total of 5 cc and i rarely use them all. i have a 0 balance on it and has been unused for the past 1.5 years since i don’t accumulate points or pay an annual fee. i opened it up for the generous opening bonus offers. would you recommend this?

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Thank you for the kind words!

        Closing an account will not remove it from the age of credit calculation. Is the age of your credit history really a problem? Do you have your credit score from What does it say for that factor?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Unfortunately, canceling the newer account isn’t going to have the effect you hope since it still counts. This may be one of those things where you simply have to wait it out. Different models treat the age of your credit differently though the fact that you have a relatively young credit history will probably still count no matter which model is being you. However, it is a relatively small factor in your score so don’t get too stressed about it.

      The only other option would be to see whether a family member would be willing to add you as an authorized user on one of their accounts they’ve held for a long time (one with a low balance and good payment history of course). That could potentially improve this factor once that account is on your credit reports.

      I still encourage you to also get your free credit score from as our data comes from a different bureau and uses different scoring models, so it would be good for you to compare.

    • Andy

      Hi, just found this very useful site, been having problems with inaccurate data on Experian and Equifax for years, had a big argument with Experian and NPower back in April, when I discovered because NPower suddenly started supplying Experian with data, my score got downgraded as “you have a new revolving credit account with less than 10 months history” – except I’ve had a good account with NPower for more than 2 years, but it seems neither they or Experian have a duty to supply a minimum period of history when an organisation like theirs decides unilaterally to start supplying data to a CRA, been through all the complaints process and got nowhere – having got that off my chest, do ALL accounts drop off after 6 years? good or bad? – thanks in advance for any advice

      • Gerri Detweiler

        I am not aware of a six year reporting limitation on any information. Negative information may not be reported for more than seven years in most cases, however positive or neutral information may be reported indefinitely.

    • Credit Experts

      You could check with the credit bureaus to see whether the account will still be reported if you remove yourself as an authorized user. If it won’t be reported, then you will lose the benefit of the age of that account.

      How old are your other accounts? If you have a long-established credit history with other accounts, then it may not make that much of a difference.

      Another way to look at it is the trade-off. That is a pretty high utilization ratio and is very likely affecting your scores. Of course they get your free credit score at to find out for sure. But because debt has more of an impact on the score than credit age, it may be worth it to lose a few points on credit age but gain them on utilization. Having said that, if you have other accounts with high utilization, eliminating one may not have much impact.

      When we caution consumers about closing old accounts, we aren’t suggesting there is never a time when that makes sense. There are times when it may be the right move, and this may be one of them.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Interesting approach. The inquiries will age off and if you keep debt usage and payment history clean then you should do find for those factors as well. That would leave account mix and age of credit. You can do a whole lot about age other than to continue what you’re doing. What about account mix? Are all of your accounts credit cards or do you have any installment loans (auto or student loans, for example)?

      This article may also be of interest:
      Will More Credit Cards Help Me Build Credit Faster?

      • jc

        Thanks Gerri! I’ve had six car loans / leases and two installment loans as well, all with perfect records.

    • Lee

      1. Get started and be patient – We all started in the same spot ——Actually we did not. I find the age part of the credit the most annoying for the simple reason that I was born in a different country and credit is not used where I was born. When I was 29 years old I got married and my wife insisted on moving back to her home country and living there so at the age of 29 I get my first US CC and start building credit so we did not all start in the same spot because those who are born in the USA can start earning credit as soon as their parents add them on to their credit cards.

      • Komrad

        Don’t feel bad. In the U.S.A., Parents adding their kids to their credit cards isn’t a universal practice . Mine did not use credit in any form. I didn’t know what credit cards were or how they worked until my mid 20s.

    • Laura Britton McLogan

      Hello! I am helping a friend repair her credit and have a question. Her score shows only 2 years of credit history — when in fact, she has had credit cards and other accounts open for more than 10 years. If there a way to make the 3 bureaus report this?

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Are you saying that she has accounts on her credit reports that are more than 10 years old but they are only showing two years worth of history? If so, I would suggest she contact the creditors to find out why that is happening. It is not typical for a creditor to only report the most recent history and not report the older history. If I misunderstood, and instead she has accounts that are 10 years old that are not reporting at all then she may be out of luck. Credit reporting is voluntary and you can’t force a lender to report if they don’t.

        • Laura Britton McLogan

          The latter – she has accounts that are 10 years old but for some reason, only 2+ years of them are showing. Thanks for the info.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It sounds like it’s working okay for you…!

    • kayparrish

      This is my question. My son is buying a house and in order to meet the debt ratio he had to get rid of his car loan. This was of course his longest history so it is down to zero and now his longest history is only 3 months for the 2 new cards he got. His score dropped 50 points after the car was shown as zero I expect some of that was due to the change in age of the credit history and some to credit utilization as he had used his one card while waiting on a new card from where his account got hacked. How long for it all to bounce back up. He already paid the cc down

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Credit scores are calculated using whatever information is available at the time. So as soon as the new balance is reported (usually at the statement closing date) that’s what will be used to calculate his utilization.

    • Komrad

      What is a good value to have for oldest account and average age of accounts? One of my credit scores scores me badly in here areas at 2 years. I’d like know what age they need be to improve my score? 5 years ? 10 years?

      • Gerri Detweiler

        It’s impossible to say because it’s not one specific number, but FICO does say that consumers with the highest credit scores tend to have an average age of credit history of 25 years.

        • Komrad

          It sounds like it may be a while before that factor of my credit score goes up – 23 years to go! Thanks for the quick response .

          • Gerri Detweiler

            I didn’t mean it to sound that way–sorry! It can improve over time; there’s no magic # of years you have to have, but if your credit history is fairly recent it probably will be a while before you get it to an A!

    • andy

      Gerri I am lost- I am trying to raise score so if i have a car loan should i pay it off in 9 months or pay minimum over 6 years? thanks

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Paying of a car loan won’t remove it from your credit reports or exclude it completely from credit score calculations. The positive payment history can still be valuable and the date it was opened can help the age of credit history factor. But if it is your only active installment loan then it could have an impact on your mix of credit. So it really depends on what other active open references your credit reports list.

    • Lori Summers

      If I add someone to one of my credit cards that I have had for over 15 years, does this give them the 15 year history for the card to improve their credit history?

      • Credit Experts

        yes, that is why it is best to add an authorized user to an older card with an excellent payment record and low utilization.

    • Dave Calvin

      If I were to cancel/close newer accounts (credit cards) would that increase the average age of accounts? Does the account’s status (open/closed) factor into this category? I also have student loans (same lender but multiple line items) which recently entered repayment. Will this also affect my Average Age of Accounts?

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Closing an account does not remove it from this calculation. And starting to repay your student loans (which I assume are in deferment now?) shouldn’t either.

    • Juan MartinezServin Carlos

      Does closing a checking and savings account from Wells Fargo let’s say effect your credit in any way ?

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Checking and savings accounts should not appear on your standard credit reports and closing them shouldn’t hurt your credit scores.

    • Mike Irizarry

      If I had a credit card for 11 years and was closed and decided to get it again 4 years later would my age of credit for that card tack back on.

      • Gerri Detweiler

        If they reopened the same account, then yes. But if it’s been closed a while they would probably issue you a new account with a new account number. In that case, no.

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